by Crystal Easom, first in a May Justice Roll series.
For days, weeks, even years, you wandered through the dark cavernous reaches of the valley of the shadow. At times it seemed the journey would never end, at times it seemed the valley would claim your end. There were days when you saw the sunlight and deigned to hope for some soon reprieve from this long wearisome journey only for the over looming peaks to plunge you once more into unforgiving darkness. It seemed this was all you had ever known and ever would as you fought hopelessness and pushed onwards, fighting upwards yet again.
Finally, the light shone true. Daybreak burst over the valley rim as you crested the peak and hope flared regenerated. New vigor beats through your bloodstream like an ethereal drumbeat. Drunk on success and relief, you vow never to forget the trials that led you to this brilliant sunrise. You find a new path directed well away from the dreaded valley and continue walking.
Time passes and you stroll along this easier road. Everything is falling into place. Do you forget the treacherous road you once navigated? A friend’s way took an unexpected turn into the dark shadows; do you take the time to guide them through? You hear tell of a stranger lost in a dead end where you had once stumbled, where you had once cried up at the walls blocking your path. You are uniquely qualified to help him. Do you?
When everything is going right: when finances are plentiful, relationships are fruitful, work is rewarding, and friends are reliable; do we forget our own past hardships? Psychologists call it mood-dependent memory. When we’re content and comfortable, it is easier to remember similar times. In our ease, do we forget that we once hurt? Do we forget those yet hurting?
The people of Israel did.
God established a political vacuum in the Levant through a civil war within Assyria that cost them their hold on the land called Eber-Nari, including the land that God promised his people. A portion of that land became the united kingdom of Israel at the end of the first millennium BC. A political vacuum never spawns just one new presence: out of the northern reaches of this land arose the Arameans and by the ninth century BC. Aram and Assyria were putting heavy pressure upon Israel, the northern half of the now divided kingdom. Israel aligned with Assyria under Jehu and, when Assyria became weak, Aram began to oppress the Israelites.
The nation began to be ripped apart, losing land to the Arameans. Relentless attacks drained the nation of its vitality. Eventually, Israel, utterly weakened to a decimated army, was entirely overtaken, “like the dust at threshing” in culmination of Elisha’s prophesy that the king would “set on fire their fortresses, and … kill their young men with the sword and dash in pieces their little ones and rip open their pregnant women.” (2 Kings 13:7, 8:12). Amos recalls the Aramean harsh oppression of Israel, saying, “They beat down my people in Gilead as grain is threshed with iron sledges.” (Amos 1:3, NLT).
Desperate, Jehoahaz cried out to God for relief and rescue from the horrors befalling his nation and God answered his prayers mightily. He inflamed the Assyrian king’s pride to overextend his resources in an aggressive external campaign against Aram to both save his people from their oppressors and then to protect them from that very saving force.
In the wake of God’s salvation, Israel enjoyed peace on all sides, gaining prosperity through cooperation with Judah. By Amos’ writing, the peace had lasted until only the very eldest held those horrors in living memory. Forgetting that they themselves had once been oppressed, the people of Israel took advantage of their own poor and vulnerable in order to make themselves wealthy. Through excessive taxes and prevalent corruption, the protection that God had established for his people was only available for those who could pay. Forgetting that God had not turned them aside in their plea for mercy from the Aramean force, they turned aside the poor from finding justice in their courts. Failing to heed Amos’ exhortation to seek the Lord and seek good, the nation that God had once raised up to save Israel ultimately became God’s hand of judgment upon them.
We have each traveled down shadowy roads and are uniquely capable to guide men and women through these paths and out of those dark reaches. Let our remembrance of God’s grace, established for us as shadows fell over Calvary saving us from our shadows, humble us that we might act upon our remembrance of the significance that God places upon just and right living, and “let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).